Electric Guitars/Paint Job


Hello Mr. Smith,

    Don't know if you can answer this for me but will give it a shot anyway. I have a Fender MIM Telecaster that I want to paint. Do you have any suggestions on how I would tackle this project. I'm a pretty good handyman but have never really gone after something like this. Any input is greatly appreciated.


Hi, Glenn!  Glad you chose me for this question; I definitely have some input for you.  First of all, think of the result you wish to achieve.  If a "raw", punk look is what you're going for, you might be able to get away with using hardware-store paints and such (think Eddie Van Halen's striped guitar).  If, however, you want that polished, custom look, the job is going to be a LOT more intense than this.  

Before we even get started painting, we need to ensure you're familiar with the assembly of your guitar, as it's going to have to be completely disassembled.  The neck, as well as all hardware and electronics are going to have to be removed.  This means - obviously - that they will also have to be put back on, so knowing how to do a pro setup on your guitar once it's reassembled is also a concern.  If this isn't something you are familiar with, factor this into the job itself - your guitar will have to be setup completely by a pro before it's ready to be played.

So, we already have disassembly, reassembly, and setup as part of the job, and we haven't even started yet!  The next function is going to be sanding to bare of the guitar body.  It's unlikely that you will find it, but if you should see black paint or copper tape inside the cavities, do NOT remove this; it's additional shielding and should stay on.  (Now would be an ideal time to add this, should you want to do so!)

Once your guitar is smooth sanded and ready for primer, we have to choose the primer/paint.  Regular, dime-store paints are NOT on par with what companies like Fender use for their guitars and won't give you the same result.  I suggest you look at products from Stewart MacDonald; they have virtually everything you need, including sprayers and sandpaper.  Here's the link: http://www.stewmac.com/shop/Finishing_supplies.html.  You'll also find books/DVD's here to help you through your project if you choose to do so.

A couple extra words, here:  you'll need a "clean room" space free of dirt and debris.  Outdoors is really not ideal for painting guitars; there's just too much wind and junk floating around to get into the finish.  (I've tried it, trust me, it's very frustrating.)  Having a space where the overspray of your finish won't ruin surrounding items is a real concern, as well.  It also helps if you have an electric buffer, as this saves tons of time getting that high-gloss finish vice doing the job by hand (although it can still be done this way).  

I suggest going to StewMac and checking out what you'll need and taking a full inventory of what it will entail to do the job right.  Should you continue forward, by all means, contact me if you run into any snags along the way or have any problems and I'll walk you through it.

I'd also like to take this opportunity to invite you by my website, www.jrosssmith.com.  You can peruse the blogs, check out music streams, contact me directly, or sign up for the e-list to get free early release stuff and non-album cuts as well as other cool stuff I can come up with.  I can't wait to hear from you!  

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J Ross Smith


Find at www.jrosssmith.com! Over 20 years of guitar playing, teaching, building, and modifying; have worked as a touring musician, studio session guitarist, engineer, guitar tech, and guitar teacher. Registered member of ASCAP. Registered member of Freelancers Union. I have a working knowledge of music theory and styles, and a taste for all types of music and instruments. If you have a favorite guitar player or style, chances are I share it! If you have a question I can't answer, I'll rely on experienced and knowledgeable people I know to get the correct information for you, and I hope I can help inspire your playing style and tone. Promo photography by Sebastian Castillo at Castillo Photography, San Diego, CA.


I hope that by answering questions thoroughly and giving insightful answers, I can have a positive impact on someone's playing style and tone - help them get their perfect sound.

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